Being a writer is one mind trick after the other. Don’t look at facebook. Sit down. No, the underside of your closet shelves do not need to be cleaned. Yes, the dishes should probably be washed, but it doesn’t have to happen this second, no matter what your live-in humans have to say about the matter. OK, the cat probably does need to be fed, otherwise you get no peace. How do you drag your lazy, resistant, kicking-and-screaming self to the desk to start writing?
1. Sit the fuck down.
It’s got to be a habit. Even if you sit down and stare at the blinking cursor for fifteen minutes thinking that your mother was right, you should have been a rocket scientist, at least you’re developing good habits. Louise Erdreich (in Blue Jay Dance) confesses to tying herself to her chair with a bathrobe belt. It took her lizard brain a few minutes to fumble with the knot, which gave her self-discipline a chance to kick in.
2. Get the fuck off the Internet.
I’m a major proponent of Freedom, i.e., the best ten dollars I have ever spent. It kicks you off the Internet and then crashes your computer when you try to restart in order to get back on the Internet. No Internet for you.
3. Find a way to focus.
I don’t immediately kick myself off the Internet. First I feed my Words with Friends addiction. This gets some of the Internet surfing energy out of the way, and it is a way to focus my brain. It’s an intellectual exercise, and unless you’re playing Teri, it isn’t very hard. It gets my mind ticking away.
4. Write a blog post.
See, this isn’t really writing. I just get to blather along, get some of my internal struggle onto the page without worrying too much about structure (oh, god, should the aliens come screaming out of the sky before or after the hero rescues his son from the dark lords?), honesty (did I make up that scene or did it really happen?), or boring my reader to tears by excruciating detail about what I had for breakfast on June 3, 1982 (probably Rice Krispies). Now you’ve tricked your writing brain to slowly squeak awake.
Not enough? Try these additional techniques.
5. Write something that sucks.
No, really, not just a bad few sentences to describe a scene that is important and that eventually you’ll figure out how to write correctly. Write something that is godawful from beginning to end. It’s hard, isn’t it? I once composed three sentences of bad fantasy for my friend’s amusement, and then I just kept going. It was a parody of all the high fantasy I have read in my life. You’ll be surprised at how hard it is to keep sucking. Your writer brain keeps trying to steer you to do good and interesting things.
6. Change your genre.
Write a poem. Write a villanelle (you practically only have to write three lines in a villanelle due to its repetitious nature). Write a blues song, note how you can make minor changes to the refrain. Write a story about your childhood. Make up a story about your neighbor. Write about the first person you saw today outside your home. Write something that has no stakes.
7. The poet game
One thing poets do to shake up their writing is called writing between the lines. You take a poet who writes very different kinds of poems than you do (either in subject matter, style, word choice, or all of the above). Type out one of his or her poems into a Word document. Put a space between each line. Write your own reaction to or reinterpretation of each line. Copy your own poem into a new Word document. You probably have some kick-ass lines. (For those of you who were expecting the song “The Poet Game,” here is Ani DiFranco singing it. I like it better even than the Greg Brown original. None of you were probably thinking that, but humor me. It’s a great song.)
What are your mind tricks?